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View Full Version : Need some help here w/ custody issues for a story.



Leva
08-06-2008, 09:45 PM
Story's a YA fantasy novel (yes, I'm jumping on that bandwagon) with a 13 to 18 year old teen girl as the protag. (Fantasy element is a beauty-and-the-beast teen romance, with the neighbor boy, who's Not Entirely Human.)

Back story is that the girl was raised by a single mom. Single mom died. Her father is a wealthy and well-respected tightwad rancher who, uh, sowed an oat when he was a young teen boy. He's denied the existance of said oat (to the point of refusing to acknowledge paternity -- his name isn't on the birth certificate) for his entire life until the girl's mom died.

(The girl's mom was from the wrong side of the tracks; he was the college football star. Yadda. Yadda.)

When the girl's mom died the girl told CPS, "Well, I know who my dad is -- my mom always said he was Rich Guy. But my mom didn't want anything to do with him."

Etc. (With both the dad and the granddad truly being jerks to her mom -- and her, the few times she's met them.)

CPS then forces the guy to submit to paternity testing, confirms he's the dad, and basically says, "Your kid. You're responsible. We don't care if you were fourteen when you had an indiscretion. You take custody. Else, we charge you $x,xxx in child support a month and keep her in foster care. And we can't guarantee the kid won't go to the papers because she's pissed you won't even admit she's yours. It'll look lovely to the papers if you, Mr. Rich Influential Guy, has a kid in foster care that you refuse to take responsibility for."

Yes, there's hostility there between the kid and the dad.

Anyway. My questions are:

1) About how long would it take between the death of the mother and the judge saying, "Take responsibility, man up, this is your kid, take custody or we start charging you child support."

(His entire motivation for getting custody is to avoid paying $x,xxx in child support.)

2) Am I right in thinking typical child support to the state would be 20% of income? Or is there a formula somewhere? (This is set in Arizona.)

3) How involved would CPS be once the kid was placed in the home. Because she's a teenager, and he has young children and wife, she basically ends up being slave labor to the family and is treated like a servant. With physical abuse and emotional abuse and educational neglect and the whole nine yards -- they work her so late into the night she fails school tests or doesn't complete homework, that sort of thing. I'll note the father is 28 when the story begins, so he's not exactly mature himself, and deals with things in a very immature fashion. Her baby siblings are doted on while she's clearly abused.

(Basically, I need to figure out how much I can get away with as far as "abuse" goes. One thing that would make the story much simpler is if she's sleeping in either a barn loft or a camper in the yard because there's no bedroom for her. It would allow her to come and go without being seen.)

Also, because the protag is a mixed-race teen girl from the wrong side of the tracks, with attitude, tattoos and piercings, I'm inclined to think that CPS would be eager to unload her on her birth father because she'd be difficult to place (and keep placed) in a home. If it was a cute adoptable little caucasian baby, CPS would handle things very differently, yes?

Also, the scenario with the mother dying is that she's in a car accident. Who would break the news to the kid? Police? CPS social worker? Or whoever was available?

crimsonlaw
08-06-2008, 10:46 PM
From my experiences in Alabama, this is how it would likely play out.

When social workers get a child, they look for a relative to place the child with. Relatives always get first dibs on a kid. However, they typically won't force a child on a relative. If Dad doesn't want the kid and the kid doesn't want to be with Dad, you've got a sticky situation. The court will have to decide what is in the best interests of the child. It might be a little better for your story if Dad agrees to take his daughter for the purposes of avoiding child support. You start getting into some murky waters otherwise.

Anytime the state takes possession of a child, a hearing must be held withing 72 hours under Federal law. This is called a Shelter Care Hearing. Purpose of it is so the court can make sure the child is being placed in a good location. One may be needed in this scenario to make sure Dad is really Dad. Note that it's not necessary for Dad to take a paternity test if he wants to sign an acknowledgment of paternity, although some judges will require the paternity test regardless.

If there is no reason to suspect Dad of being a bad guy, it's very possible that the little girl will never see a social worker again after she's living with Dad. They will likely take the attitude of "she is with her father at a nice house so we're closing this case." If there is a noticeable amount of friction between the two, some type of counseling may be offered or required. A pop-in visit or two may occur, but if the dad is thought to be a good guy, they will likely call before visiting.

One thing to remember is that social workers are incredibly overworked and have very stressful jobs. Although some are prone to look for demons in every shadow, the majority are young adults who are somewhere between idealistic and totally stressed out. Thus, most social workers will jump at the chance to close a case to lighten their load.

There likely won't be more than the one court appearance if everything goes smoothly. The Shelter Care may not even be necessary if they can find Dad quickly and he agrees to sign the affidavit.

So, this would be a relatively quick case for the court system. For whatever reason, the world of juvenile law seems to be in a state of constant flux. The procedure for handling such a case varies in every county I've practiced in during my career, and it seems to be dependent on the attitude of the judge. If (s)he wants to stay on top of a case, it can last for months. If (s)he just wants to get to lunch, a case can be closed in a matter of minutes.

As far as child support, each state uses a different set of guidelines, but they all should have guidelines. You may be able to find Arizona's with a quick google search. Here's one I found: http://www.supreme.state.az.us/childsup/ I don't have any experience with Arizona, so I can't help you any further, but it looks like this link has some good instructions.

Good luck!

dirtsider
08-07-2008, 06:18 PM
Personally, I don't think you need to add abuse to an already volitile situation. First of all, any sign of abuse with the teen will not only bring CPS back down on Dad's head for the MC's sake but just might get the younger kids taken as well. The rationale being: "if the older kid's being abused, what's happening to the younger kids?" It doesn't matter if the younger kids are spoiled rotten, the CPS is not going to take chances with their welfare. The problems with the educational side of things can be explained with a change of school (and difference in educational standards) and general upheaval in her life.

Second of all, there's going to be enough conflict and friction just dealing with the new situation of all involved without needing to add abuse. Both the MC and her Dad (and his new family) are both resentful for being in this situation the first place. Also, the MC's dealing with the loss of her mother. With young kids, both Dad and Step-Mom will be stressed out just dealing with them and might not have the time and energy to deal with the MC and her emotional problems. Which means there's probably a lot of fights and clashes without needing to resort to abuse. Also, the Dad's probably going to feel that since the MC's a teen, she's old enough to "pull her own weight" and make her do chores, etc. Throw in a different style of discipline from the MC's mother and voila! Instant conflict. In the MC's eyes, this new discipline might feel like abuse.

And I think (my personal opinion, ymmv), making the Dad a decent guy making bad decisions isn't a bad thing. You already established his tendency to make mistakes with him having a kid a such a young age.

As for the MC's living quarters, why not put her in a studio apartment behind the main house? A converted outbuilding or detached garage on the property, some place Dad might have rented out anyway? If he's got the property, there's no reason why he wouldn't have such a thing. This way, the MC can have her own place suitable for your plot and gives Dad another reason to be resentful - he can't rent the place out or use it for his other kids since she has to live there. If Dad doesn't have the room put the MC up, then I would think CPS wouldn't have placed her with him, no matter the child support.

Leva
08-07-2008, 09:25 PM
Thanks for the input.

On the MC, I think she does need to be in an abusive situation -- if not something where CPS could act, at least a situation where her needs aren't being met and she's being emotionally tormented. For the story to work, she needs to truly be "wanted by no one" -- until she meets the hero, who likes her just because she's her.

The whole theme of the story is that sometimes, you've got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, take responsibility for your own life, stop whining, and not let other people in your life hold you back. Even if life sucks sometimes and even if your homelife is far from perfect -- you can still succeed.

Dirtsider -- it's entirely possible that her father would deny she's his kid. He's probably denied it to himself for fourteen years. (He accused her mother of sleeping around when they were teenagers.) For story purposes, I need her to have a sympathetic, neutral adult around and I'm thinking that the foster mom would work. So she needs to be in a foster home at least for awhile. (Plus, foster parents always get a bad rap. I'd like to have one be positive in a story for once!)

So I'm thinking the chain of events would be:

CPS social worker drops her off at the foster parents house.

She's there a couple of months until paternity is established for the dad.

The father then has a homestudy done to get her and takes custody in -- what, two, three months? Or would they make a father do a homestudy?

-- Leva

Leva
08-07-2008, 09:51 PM
<delete> (Board doing weird things; this was supposed to be a new thread.)

dirtsider
08-07-2008, 10:31 PM
Oh, the neutral foster parent would still be a viable option. Your MC can still feel like there's no one there for her at the ranch without having the father being a total jerk. If something's happening at the ranch that's occupying most of the father's attention, having the MC go to the foster mother for emotional support means that's one less thing he has to worry about. If her father hasn't been a part of her life in the past, chances are he's not going to open up right away, leading to the feelings of abandonment. He's probably feeling guilty. Especially if this is set in a small town with small town values. She's a living reminder that he's made mistakes in the past. If he was a total a@@, he would've just dumped her in the foster system and paid the child support.

Ranching is a hard, intensive job. It's not a 9-5 day job that can be left at the office at the end of the day. Dad will be out there day in, day out. He's on call 24/7. Some of things he has to do include: making sure the herd's healthy. Making sure the fences are solid and the wildlife or poachers aren't after his herd. (Cattle or horses aren't cheap.) Providing security. Cleaning out the barn, making sure the vets come by on routine basis. Ordering, receiving, and preparing the feed for the various animals and making sure they get it. Putting them out to pasture and bringing them back in. If they're dairy cows, milking them on a regular basis is another chore. Buying new animals if necessary or selling off their stock. Making sure the equipment is in working order and getting it repaired if it's not. Stepmom's going to be just as busy, not only helping with the ranch duties but taking care of the younger kids as well, and all the house duties.

If one animal gets sick, chances are more than one is and that means one or the other of the parental figures is out there in the barn, nursing the animals back to health, even if there are other ranch hands out there to help.

I don't work on a ranch, but I regularly help out at a living history farm which is an actual working farm. There's a lot of work that has to be done, rain or shine, and they need all the help they can get.

Also, the MC is probably going from life with her birth mother in town or city to life on a ranch, which will be totally different from what she's used to. She's going to be expected to pitch in help almost right away and feel foolish because she's not as experienced as everyone else. She's going to have to adjust and, if the parental figures and other ranch hands are busy, she won't have anyone there but the foster mother to help,

Leva
08-08-2008, 12:20 AM
Thanks.

FWIW, I live in rural Arizona, and have a solid grasp of the realities of ranching -- you're right about it being a day-in day-out job. And the kid, who's a townie, will have some real major culture shock on all sorts of levels.

"What do you mean you want me to help butcher that cow ...?"

"You want me to stick my hand where on that gelding?"

"It's sick, shouldn't we call the vet? What? You're just going to kill it and feed the meat to the dogs? But ..."

"I can't believe the chickens just ate that ..."

Etc.

Actually, one of the tricky things of setting this story is where to set it in Arizona, because of the risk of what happens if it gets popular! I don't want to plant the story someplace where there's a real actual ranch; if by some chance I sell it and it's successful I don't want a gazillion fans pestering the real ranchers. OTOH, I want it somewhere that I can go to easily to do research.

-- Leva


Oh, the neutral foster parent would still be a viable option. Your MC can still feel like there's no one there for her at the ranch without having the father being a total jerk. If something's happening at the ranch that's occupying most of the father's attention, having the MC go to the foster mother for emotional support means that's one less thing he has to worry about. If her father hasn't been a part of her life in the past, chances are he's not going to open up right away, leading to the feelings of abandonment. He's probably feeling guilty. Especially if this is set in a small town with small town values. She's a living reminder that he's made mistakes in the past. If he was a total a@@, he would've just dumped her in the foster system and paid the child support.

Ranching is a hard, intensive job. It's not a 9-5 day job that can be left at the office at the end of the day. Dad will be out there day in, day out. He's on call 24/7. Some of things he has to do include: making sure the herd's healthy. Making sure the fences are solid and the wildlife or poachers aren't after his herd. (Cattle or horses aren't cheap.) Providing security. Cleaning out the barn, making sure the vets come by on routine basis. Ordering, receiving, and preparing the feed for the various animals and making sure they get it. Putting them out to pasture and bringing them back in. If they're dairy cows, milking them on a regular basis is another chore. Buying new animals if necessary or selling off their stock. Making sure the equipment is in working order and getting it repaired if it's not. Stepmom's going to be just as busy, not only helping with the ranch duties but taking care of the younger kids as well, and all the house duties.

If one animal gets sick, chances are more than one is and that means one or the other of the parental figures is out there in the barn, nursing the animals back to health, even if there are other ranch hands out there to help.

I don't work on a ranch, but I regularly help out at a living history farm which is an actual working farm. There's a lot of work that has to be done, rain or shine, and they need all the help they can get.

Also, the MC is probably going from life with her birth mother in town or city to life on a ranch, which will be totally different from what she's used to. She's going to be expected to pitch in help almost right away and feel foolish because she's not as experienced as everyone else. She's going to have to adjust and, if the parental figures and other ranch hands are busy, she won't have anyone there but the foster mother to help,

Clair Dickson
08-08-2008, 12:49 AM
Stick her in a camper in the back of the property and have no one even check on her when it storms or call her for dinner. That's pretty powerful enough to make her feel unwanted. (Ex. I had a student who was devastated when her mom's boyfriend made the girl eat dinner in the basement while his kids could eat at the dinner table. This is an 18 year old girl who was crying like a baby after only a week of this. Which I can understand-- no one wants to be cast aside.)

You could have a worker on the farm be the sympathetic adult.

That way you don't have to continue abusing her. Just some thoughts.

dirtsider
08-08-2008, 01:04 AM
Thanks.

FWIW, I live in rural Arizona, and have a solid grasp of the realities of ranching -- you're right about it being a day-in day-out job. And the kid, who's a townie, will have some real major culture shock on all sorts of levels.

"What do you mean you want me to help butcher that cow ...?"

"You want me to stick my hand where on that gelding?"

"It's sick, shouldn't we call the vet? What? You're just going to kill it and feed the meat to the dogs? But ..."

"I can't believe the chickens just ate that ..."

Etc.

Actually, one of the tricky things of setting this story is where to set it in Arizona, because of the risk of what happens if it gets popular! I don't want to plant the story someplace where there's a real actual ranch; if by some chance I sell it and it's successful I don't want a gazillion fans pestering the real ranchers. OTOH, I want it somewhere that I can go to easily to do research.

-- Leva

Oh yeah, definitely culture shock!! LOL

waylander
08-09-2008, 01:05 AM
The attitude of the half-siblings will also be important here.
If the MC gets into conflict with the half-siblings then their parents will naturally side with them, giving them another perfectly sound reason to keep MC out of the main house etc.

dirtsider
08-09-2008, 05:27 PM
Ok, spoke to my Dad (he' a lawyer) regarding the homestudy. Yes, a homestudy is definitely going to be done before the MC can be placed with the father. If there is no room for her, they will not place her, no matter how much he wants to avoid paying child support. So a studio apartment would probably be the best option. I would think that CPS would raise a red flag if the MC had just a small camper when the rest of the family lived in a house. Especially if the foster mother's willing to take her back, which means the MC has a place to go.

If there is any sign of abuse, the MC and the younger kids would be taken from the parents. And the foster mother would be the first person to speak up for the MC if they have that kind of close bond and she thought there was a problem.

Skyraven
08-09-2008, 07:43 PM
When speaking of foster care, if dad refuses the parternity test in the beginning, the process from foster home to dad's home will span more than a couple of months. Foster care doesn't work that quickly. Placement from birth mom's home to foster home would be asap. Dad would have to first acknowledge he wants to be there for his daughter. A homestudy would be done to see if there is space for the MC. Then dad would have to start supervised weekly visits to prove his intentions toward the MC. Also a foster care agency would NOT place a child in a studio apartment or camper behind or near the home. The MC must stay on the same premises as the Dad for safety. He could not ensure her safety otherwise. Also a social worker would make monthly visits to the home to assess how dad is doing and if the SW feels dad is lacking in parenting skills - he would be required to take a parenting class as well as anger management if needed. The MC would be in therapy due to birth mom's death and possibly family therapy for MC and dad. Since the MC is 14, the agency would place the MC where SHE wants to go if she wants to go there. So placement at dad's house would mean that both MC and dad want to be a family.

Leva - any other questions shoot me a PM. I'm a therapist in FC.

ideagirl
08-21-2008, 05:55 AM
When the girl's mom died the girl told CPS, "Well, I know who my dad is -- my mom always said he was Rich Guy. But my mom didn't want anything to do with him."...
CPS then forces the guy to submit to paternity testing

Hmm. In the US? I'm not sure this would be possible. If he didn't want to provide a DNA sample, and he's a rich dude who can afford good lawyers, he could string them along for years arguing about whether he had to give a DNA sample, and he might well win. They would probably need more than the girl saying "my mom said he was my dad" to get a warrant, and without a warrant they can't make him do it. The government can't just come up and make you provide a DNA sample against your will. So you might need to add a CSI-style plot twist along the lines of his DNA being taken off a cigarette butt or beer bottle that he discards in public. But that would be a little hard to believe--CPS probably doesn't have the budget or the staff for that kind of thing.

Also, I'm not sure they would make him take custody--they have to consider the best interests of the child, and if the father adamantly does not want custody and is actually fighting their efforts to place the kid with him, it's kind of hard for me to imagine why they would make the kid go live with him. They could charge child support, though... if they could prove he was the dad (see DNA/law problem above). But if he doesn't contest custody--if he seeks it in order to avoid paying child support--then, yeah, he should get it doublequick, as the only surviving parent.


3) How involved would CPS be once the kid was placed in the home.

Probably not involved at all. He's her dad--it's not like she's a foster kid that CPS is responsible for. They wouldn't be involved again until/unless someone reported to them that she was being abused. As for the abuse and school issues, note that generally teachers are legally obligated to report possible child abuse if they suspect it.


because the protag is a mixed-race teen girl from the wrong side of the tracks, with attitude, tattoos and piercings, I'm inclined to think that CPS would be eager to unload her on her birth father because she'd be difficult to place (and keep placed) in a home. If it was a cute adoptable little caucasian baby, CPS would handle things very differently, yes?

No. A child with a living parent whose parental rights have not been terminated cannot be adopted without that parent's consent. CPS can't make the kid adoptable without first getting the dad's parental rights terminated--which, it sounds like, is the exact opposite of what they're trying to do in your story. And in any event, it's not easy to terminate a person's parental rights.

ideagirl
08-21-2008, 05:59 AM
The father then has a homestudy done to get her and takes custody in -- what, two, three months? Or would they make a father do a homestudy?


No. He's her dad. He has parental rights. He doesn't need to prove that he's a fit parent to get custody. It's the opposite: because he's her parent, he automatically gets her unless the CPS is able to prove that he's an unfit parent. I'm expressing things very simply and generally, and there are no doubt some subtleties I'm not conveying, but that's the basic gist. The subtleties in this case might arise from the fact that the guy was a terrible/nonexistent dad for the first 14 years of her life. But, once his paternity is established, if he wants the kid to live with him (even if he only wants it in order to avoid paying child support), CPS has to go to court to prove that he's unfit if it wants to prevent it.

Tsu Dho Nimh
08-22-2008, 04:13 AM
She's 14, she's had a rough life, her mom just died, shes been sent to live in the gawdfersaken WILDS on a ranch.

You don't have to add "real abuse" to make her feel unwanted and alone. She'll have a rough period of adjustment to the new schedule (getting up at dawn to get to the schoolbus, ranch chores, new siblings, stepmom ... it's enough to make her feel totally unloved)

You say the message will be: sometimes, you've got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, take responsibility for your own life, stop whining, and not let other people in your life hold you back. Even if life sucks sometimes and even if your homelife is far from perfect -- you can still succeed.

Well, without the abuse ... what changes in the message. Maybe she's the one holding herself back.

katiemac
08-22-2008, 04:34 AM
Just some thoughts that hit me while I was reading your story. You've probably covered these bases, but they struck me so I thought I'd share.

-If the guy does have a lot of money like you say, and truly is an ass, then he would probably be more likely to pay the child support and keep her in foster care.

-If he's worried about his image in the papers, then he'd probably accept custody almost right away. But that still doesn't mean he wants to. Again, if he's so rich, then I wouldn't buy a bedroom not being available. Instead, I'd suspect he'd set up a nice bedroom for her (again, think of the papers!) but it's so out of touch with anything she would like she knows he doesn't give a crap. Then, she ends up spending more time in the barn or somewhere because it feels better to her than the bedroom that she knows was put up for anything better.

Something a little different might get rid of problems with custody in the setup. By all means though, if it's important to the direct plot then forget I said anything. ;)

Tsu Dho Nimh
08-22-2008, 08:09 PM
I like the idea of the bedroom being all hannah montana girly squee-ish and totally alien, just what her step-mom and her half-sister would be delighted to have, but not hers. They called a decorator and said "she's 14, decorate the room". It's on-trend, it's all new, and it's awful.

I had a classmate in high school whose family fit the Rich Guy profile ... their house was luxurious, but as comfortable as a depaartment store display. Her mom had no warmth, totally concerned with appearances, with being in style, having her kids reflect well on her.

Coming from a household where her mom genuinely cared for her, that would be enough to make her feel alienated. All the slight snubs, the "you aren't top-drawer like we are", they way she might be left behind with a "oh, you don't know them, you might as well not go" comments.